My husband tells me all of my memories are of food, all of my references are of food and most of my activities are about food. I have no response to that as I make a hardy supper that I know will taste so much better because of the memories it will bring back.
A few Novembers ago I was on my own in Florence, looking for a restaurant to enjoy dinner. I ventured off the main street, into a back courtyard of big old twisted trees, stray cats and a little restaurant. There was a group of tables and chairs scattered across the uneven pavement in front of the little eaterie.
I knew in a second this is where I wanted to eat. There was not a lot of investment in the décor, some tables were set for one and the old wooden chairs all happened to face the large TV that hung from the ceiling in the corner. The owner’s son, a serious 5 year old, was assisting by placing baskets of bread on the tables. Mom had just arrived, laden with bags of fresh produce and I knew this is where I would discover some delicious Italian cuisine.
I insisted on eating outside because I wanted the view of the famous U’Domo as I enjoyed my dinner (even if it was only of the top two thirds of the magnificent church). My request was answered with an intolerant grunt and I knew right then and there if the meal had half as much attitude, it was going to be heavenly.
As I sipped on some wine I could begin to feel the dampness of the evening settle into my bones. Just then the owner brought out a steaming bowl of soup (I hadn’t ordered) and muttered something I didn’t quite hear. He held up his hands so I wouldn’t argue and walked back into the restaurant.
It was a bowl of thick, steaming bean soup. It was a soup so good it made me swoon and soon I began to warm. I’m sure the wine helped me to warm while I nursed my exquisite bowl of “Pasta e Figioli” (pasta and beans) a soup of small noodles and navy beans made rich with bacon, rosemary and garlic, so rich and delicious that I began sopping up the last with some thick fresh bread.
The soup did more than warm my bones on that chilly night, it rekindled a love affair I have with traditional Italian bean dishes that I’d long forgotten. Throughout my stay in Italy, I began to order different bean dishes and found that each humble dish I ate was better than the last.
Of course apart from savouring the soup, it brought me back to the winter nights when my grandmother would make it. It was just as good then as it was that night. In Italy, they call it peasant food, at home we call it comfort food. By any name it’s the perfect cuisine for a chilly autumn night when you’re looking to be warmed by more than the temperature of food.
Pasta e Figioli
A great cool weather soup, if you have some parmesan rinds, throw them in for added flavour.
1 19 ounce (540 mL) can navy beans
3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil
2 slices bacon
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 cups (750 mL) water parmesan cheese rinds (optional)
½ cup (125 mL) small elbow pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Drain the can of navy beans and divide in half. Put half the beans in the blender with oil and puree. Put the bean puree and remaining beans in a soup pot. In a small skillet, sauté the bacon with rosemary and garlic cloves until garlic is golden. Discard the rosemary and garlic. Stir the bacon with its juices into the soup pot with the beans. Add water and parmesan rinds (optional) and bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the pasta and cook until just al dente. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side. Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.